Return to Transcripts main page
PAULA ZAHN NOW
Incomparable Morgan Freeman; Police Closing in on BTK Killer?
Aired February 25, 2005 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: And welcome, everybody. Thank you so much for joining us.
Tonight, the cold case of a serial killer, one that has baffled police for decades, suddenly heats up again.
ZAHN (voice-over): Three letters that spell terror in a Midwestern city, BTK, bind, torture, kill. After more than 30 years, are the police closing in on the brutal murderer?
MORGAN FREEMAN, ACTOR: Oh, I would be tempted.
ZAHN: And the talent, the face, the voice.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "MILLION DOLLAR BABY")
FREEMAN: I went out swinging and no man can say I didn't.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAHN: An Oscar nominee goes from the top of the world back to his Mississippi roots.
FREEMAN: This is downtown Clarksdale, the center of what's happening now.
ZAHN: The incomparable Morgan Freeman.
ZAHN: We begin tonight with breaking news on the BTK serial killer in Wichita. Sources are now telling us that police are questioning a -- quote -- "person of interest." Our affiliate, KAKE, tells us police have searched a home outside Wichita. And the mayor's office has called a news conference about the case for tomorrow morning.
This is a developing story and we'll keep coming back to it in this hour. I will be speaking with KAKE's Larry Hatteberg tonight. He has covered this case from the very start. I will also be speaking with a woman who says she was BTK's target 28 years ago, but she miraculously escaped death. BTK is wanted for eight murders dating back to the 1970s.
David Mattingly has been following this mysterious story. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): January 15, 1974, Julie Otero is murdered in her home in Wichita, Kansas. The killer then murders her husband and two of her children. Months later, a chilling letter arrives at the local paper. "When this monster entered my brain, I will never know, but it is here to stay," the killer writes. "Maybe you can stop him. I can't. He has already chosen his next victim."
(on camera): Do you remember that first day when someone came to you and said, I think we have a serial killer?
RICHARD LAMUNYON, WICHITA POLICE CHIEF: It was something that I had in the back of my mind, but it's only something that you read about, something that you watch on television.
MATTINGLY (voice-over): In the '70s, Richard Lamunyon was a young chief of police and among those stunned by the twisted brutality in the way the killer treated his victims. He remembers the fear and the frustration as he tried to reassure the public.
LAMUNYON: I think we'll solve the crime. The question is, when will we solve the crime?
That was me 27 years ago. Yes, that was me.
MATTINGLY (on camera): You still stand by that statement?
LAMUNYON: I still stand by that statement, yes. We will catch him. And I have thought that all along, because he wants to be caught. He wants to be identified.
MATTINGLY (voice-over): Some now believe that moment may be at hand. The on-again/off-again killing spree has left at least eight dead, possibly more. The killer calls himself BTK, which stands for "bind them, torture them, kill them," a pattern he has followed with most of his victims. He has also developed a taste for publicity.
Over 31 years, he has sent many notes to Wichita police and the local media and once even reported one of his murders to 911.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. You will find a homicide at 843 South Pershing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTINGLY (on camera): Experts following the case agree the killer's greatest talent may be deception. His actions do not fit into any one particular profile and his communications contain such a wide array of possible clues that no clear picture of him emerges.
(voice-over): The last known murder was 1986. A 28-year-old mother named Vicki Wegerle was killed, like all the others, in her Wichita home. But this time, there were no calls, no notes. So many years went by that some believed BTK was dead. They were wrong.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This morning, we have more information on the letter sent to "The Wichita Eagle" by the BTK killer.
MATTINGLY: Last spring, after nearly a 25-year silence, the killer unleashed a flurry of communications to local media, including a package dropped in this Wichita park containing the driver's license of one of his victims.
(on camera): How unusual is this, for a serial killer to give back mementos that he has taken?
ROBERT BEATTIE, ATTORNEY: I've never heard of that happening before at all.
MATTINGLY (voice-over): Wichita attorney Robert Beattie has written a soon-to-be-published book on BTK and is among those believing the killer has reemerged with a purpose.
(on camera): Is it possible he's winding down, maybe coming to some sort of conclusion?
BEATTIE: He may be winding down to a conclusion or climax or he may be teasing us. While we're all expecting something, he will just disappear like Jack the Ripper.
MATTINGLY: Do you think he'll kill again?
LAMUNYON: I -- you cannot rule that out. I personally don't think he will. And the reason is, you know, he still has these memories. I think he's guilt-ridden now. And I think he will -- that the final hurrah that he refers to is the idea that he will come forward.
MATTINGLY (on camera): Tonight, police in Wichita have descended on a suburban home searching for evidence amid growing signs this 30- year mystery may be near an end. Sources say one man is being questioned as -- quote -- "a person of interest in the case." Police are reported to be increasingly confident they have found the killer who has taunted them for so long. They are said to be waiting only for results of DNA testing. And could come sometime later tonight.
This latest development was broken by station KAKE in Wichita, where the anchormen there has covered these murders for a full three decades.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Today's message is eerily similar to a postcard KAKE received last week.
LARRY HATTEBERG, KAKE ANCHOR: The theory is that this guy has probably been living amongst us for the past 30 years, going to the store with us, going to the movies. And that's the scary part.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We could make BTK into something more in terms of that, but right now all we have got with him is just the one story. MATTINGLY (voice-over): After apparently vanishing 18 years ago, the Wichita serial killer known as BTK reemerged last March with a flurry of mysterious packages and cryptic notes, three of them delivered to television station KAKE.
HATTEBERG: Then you can say the BTK thing...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
HATTEBERG: ... coming up tonight.
MATTINGLY: And today, it is clearly the story that drives the news.
HATTEBERG: Well, that search for BTK continues today.
BTK is the master puppeteer. He controls the police department. He controls the media and he controls the public. And he's the guy pulling the strings.
MATTINGLY: News anchor Larry Hatteberg was a young photographer at the scene of the first BTK murders in 1974 and he has covered every BTK murder ever since.
HATTEBERG: It was a terrible, terrible murder. And I remember thinking -- and we talked about it on television and of course it was discussed in the newspaper -- that things -- murders like this don't happen in Wichita, Kansas.
MATTINGLY: But this time, it's different. There's a new generation of viewers instantly fearful of what this killer might do, though, strangely, there are so far no new victims. The frequency of recent notes, however, suggests BTK has not lost his apparent need for attention, a trait that dates back to his first letter to this station in 1978.
HATTEBERG: He wrote to us and he said -- quote -- "How many more people do I have to kill before I get my name in the paper?" This is not a guy you want to tick off. This is not a guy you want to make mad. This is a guy you want to keep happy. So, if this constant publicity keeps him happy, so be it.
MATTINGLY: So, on February 3, Hatteberg had the idea to start a conversation, address the murderer directly in a newscast, in hopes of keeping the communication going. After 31 years of reading the words of a killer, Hatteberg was talking back.
HATTEBERG: We know he is watching and we know he is listening. And to him, we say, the message has been received and passed on.
As long as he's talking, as long as he's writing, as long as he's communicating, he's not killing. And that's the thing that we don't want to have happen is to him -- is for him to kill again.
MATTINGLY: So far, the killer has not responded to Hatteberg. But if the day soon comes, as some suggest, that BTK decides to reveal himself, Hatteberg is ready with the question that is on everyone's mind.
HATTEBERG: I want him sitting right where you are and I want to look into his eyes and I want to say, why? What made you do this? What was inside your soul that caused you to do what you did? What kind of demons are in there? I want to talk to him. All of us want to talk to this guy.
ZAHN: And I will be talking with Larry Hatteberg in a few minutes. As we mentioned, he has been on this story for more than 30 years now. In addition to that, we will be meeting up with a woman who says she was one of the killer's intended victims. She has since fled that state. Tonight, she will join us in silhouette, still terrified after all of these years.
But, coming up next, we look ahead to Sunday. You know what day that is, huge day in Hollywood and in Clarksdale, Mississippi.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FREEMAN: They said, oh, my God, Mississippi. Jesus, you could live any place in the world you want. Why are you moving to Mississippi?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAHN: Southern hospitality and Oscar nominee Morgan Freeman as you've never seen him before, coming up next.
ZAHN: It's countdown time to Hollywood's big night, the Oscars, right there. Two nights from now, the stars will pour in for the 77th annual Academy Awards, if you're counting, and pour into their very tight-fitting, slinky gowns.
And when it's all done, you can bet there will be plenty of arguments over which movie should and should not have won. The classic example, "Citizen Kane," nominated for best picture in 1941, but lost. A lot of people think it is the best movie ever made. How about "2001: A Space Odyssey"? Completely ignored in 1968. "Raging Bull," a loser in 1980. And in 1998, "Saving Private Ryan" lost out to "Shakespeare in Love." Remember that one?
Well, the great actor Morgan Freeman has been nominated for an Oscar three times before and lost But this year, folks say it might be different. He's up for best supporting actor for his role in the film "Million Dollar Baby." And insiders are telling us he's got the best shot to win.
Morgan Freeman has had a very long and successful career, but he's chosen a lifestyle that is far from the glamour of the Hollywood you just saw unfolding live on the screen.
Bruce Burkhardt caught up with him. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
FREEMAN: Hot car, hot.
BRUCE BURKHARDT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Morgan Freeman likes it hot. And that's a good thing, because it's hot here in Mississippi.
FREEMAN: This is downtown Clarksdale, the center of what's happening now.
BURKHARDT: A man of his accomplishments and wealth could live anywhere. With four Oscar nominations, as an ex-fighter...
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "MILLION DOLLAR BABY")
FREEMAN: I'm airing out my feet.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURKHARDT: A pimp, a prisoner, and a driver of "Miss Daisy," the respected actor chooses to live in the hot and humid Mississippi Delta.
FREEMAN: People asked me, when I moved back home, they said, oh, my God, Mississippi. Jesus, you could live any place in the world you want. Why are you moving to Mississippi? And I said precisely because I can live any place in the world I want.
BURKHARDT: Freeman's ancestors were slaves who worked the fields of the Delta. He spent 18 of his growing-up years in Mississippi. He graduated from the separate-but-equal black high school in Greenwood. He went to the movies and sat in the balcony. The ground floor was for whites only.
(on camera): That didn't bother you?
FREEMAN: No, it wouldn't. It can't bother you if that's the way life is. If you were raised up in Africa and you ate worms, it wouldn't bother you, would it? Would it? Same thing. If you're growing up in a segregated society, that's the way life is. It's -- I wasn't thinking about rising up and going to Paramount and demanding to be let into the ground floor. I just wanted to go to the movies.
BILL LUCKETT, FRIEND OF FREEMAN: This railroad track is what divided white and black Clarksdale when I was growing up.
BURKHARDT (voice-over): Clarksdale lawyer Bill Luckett also grew up in the Delta.
LUCKETT: Cam (ph) grocery, where I would buy beer when I was 16. Here's the blues crossroad, this little place that has got the sign out. It says "Blues Shangri-La." And we had some fun in there. Morgan and I really had some great times listening to Super Chikan and some other bands.
BURKHARDT: Freeman and Luckett lived in parallel universes, one white, one black. Now the two are best friends.
FREEMAN: Got a party to go that night.
He's not white.
BURKHARDT (on camera): He's not?
BURKHARDT: What is he?
FREEMAN: Bill Luckett. I don't look over there and see a white guy. Does he look over there and see a black guy?
LUCKETT: I don't see a black guy in him. We're just friends. We have a lot of similar interests. We like good food and good conversation and lively crowds and having a good time together.
BURKHARDT (voice-over): The two have turned their love of a good time into business ventures, a blues club called Ground Zero because Clarksdale, they say, is ground zero for the blues, and an upscale restaurant, Madidi, just down the street from the club.
They've created jobs in an area that needs them. But Freeman downplays that. He says his motivation was selfish. He got tired of driving so far for good food and good music.
FREEMAN: The blues club is a necessity, because we see so many people coming through here looking for the storied Delta blues.
BURKHARDT: Freeman never thought he would end up here in Mississippi, but the Delta kept calling him back.
FREEMAN: My aim in life, when I graduated from high school, was to get out of Mississippi. I started coming back in about 1979, because my parents moved back, which I couldn't understand. What in the world would make you come back here? It took me about 20 years to figure that out.
BURKHARDT: Freeman's first exposure to an integrated society was in 1955, when he joined the Air Force after high school. Many Southern blacks discovered democracy in the military. Freeman found racism. He describes a conversation with a bunk mate from California who had a few misconceptions about black people.
FREEMAN: He told me all the things he'd heard about, you know, just awful stuff to think about people. And his last line in that was, you're cleaner than I am. I thought, well, OK. Fine. That one -- that's one that sticks with me, that, you know, he was raised up to think that I was some kind of animal.
BURKHARDT: When we come back, a big disappointment after Freeman decides to move back home. FREEMAN: Maybe now I'll go and join the Ku Klux Klan.
ZAHN: We've been counting down to the Oscars tonight. Of course, they kick off Sunday night. And they're as much about who wins sometimes as who doesn't. Think of all the leading men who have never won, Cary Grant, Robert Redford, Tom Cruise, all those guys in pretty good company.
And, as we mentioned earlier, Morgan Freeman, nominated three times before, but he's never won. But he does have a chance to break out this Sunday for his supporting role in "Million Dollar Baby."
Here again, Bruce Burkhardt.
BURKHARDT (voice-over): Morgan Freeman believes Mississippi and the South are less racist than the rest of the country.
FREEMAN: I grew up in a segregated society. And that was purposely, obviously, openly segregated. And it wasn't given any B.S. about anything else.
And then I went up to the North. And you see it, and it's -- it's insidious. And it's painful in its insidiousness, because you want to think something else is going on, and it's not. You want to think you're freer. You're not.
LUCKETT: We're much more integrated here than a number of cities. Right here, you'll drive along a street like this, there will be a white family, black family, white family, black family right down these streets. This neighborhood, which for its entire life until the last few years was all white, is now a mixed race neighborhood.
BURKHARDT: But Luckett says the country club still has no black members, only black employees. And Freeman was thrown for a loop in 2001. He got politically active on the issue of the Mississippi state flag. He wanted to get rid of the Confederate battle flag in the corner.
FREEMAN: The flag, the stars and bars has personal resonance for me, because, to me, it doesn't represent so much the South as a very negative mind-set that is not necessarily Southern, because you see that flag wherever you see skinheads, radical right-wingers, neo- Nazis, any hate group.
BURKHARDT: Politicians put it to a statewide referendum. By an overwhelming 2-1 margin, Mississippians voted to keep the old flag. Black voters did not turn out. The flag didn't mean as much to them as it does to Morgan Freeman.
FREEMAN: It's pitiful. They still feel that they do not have a say. That's why they don't do it. That's the apathy part of it. It just doesn't matter what I -- you know, it's not going to change anything. It's too bad. Maybe now I'll go and join the Ku Klux Klan.
BURKHARDT: Freeman is putting his money where his mouth is to change Mississippi. His nonprofit foundation has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to schools and universities. The Mississippi legislature officially acknowledged Freeman's dedication to education.
FREEMAN: One of the smartest moves I've made in life is to come back home.
BURKHARDT: On a full-moon night, Freeman and Luckett did what generations of Deltans have done, listen to somebody sing about feeling bad, in hopes of feeling good. It's time to party at their blues club, Ground Zero.
The crowd was mostly white. The owners hope that will change. The next morning, Morgan Freeman made headlines in "The Clarksdale Press Register." By the afternoon, he was pumping his own gas. The Delta is not colorblind yet. But, for a man who grew up in a shotgun house in the segregated South, it and he have come a long way.
FREEMAN: This is home. This is where I grew up. This is what I know. It's Mississippi.
ZAHN: Morgan Freeman, a man of passion, a man with a moral conscience and a man that just might be taking home his first Oscar Sunday night.
Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, you'll hear from more stars this weekend on "PEOPLE IN THE NEWS." That gets under way 5:00 p.m. Eastern tomorrow here on CNN.
Coming up next, we refocus on tonight's top story, breaking news. We're going to meet a woman who says she was on the BTK killer's list, was not home when he knocked on her door. Also joining me, that Wichita newsman who's been on the story for more than 30 years. He'll put today's person of interest that law enforcement is looking at into perspective.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They know who lives in the house the police have converged on, being careful to protect his identity, I don't want to say anything specific, but some people were complimentary of him, other people skeptical of him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAHN: And we are following that breaking news tonight on the BTK serial murder case. Sources are telling us, police are questioning a person of interest. And our affiliate KAKE is reporting that they are waiting for DNA tests to see if the person in custody is the BTK Killer.
Joining me now is a journalist who's covered the case from start, KAKE's anchor Larry Hatteberg.
Thank for joining us tonight, Larry. We just talked about these DNA tests. What is law enforcement telling you? Do they think they have their man?
LARRY HATTEBERG, KAKE ANCHOR: Well, our sources are telling us at this point in time, they're 90 percent sure they have their man. That's what our sources are saying at this point.
You may not know this, but at about mid-morning this morning, the FBI and Wichita Police Department executed search warrants at a home in Park City. Park City is a suburb of Wichita. By mid-afternoon, a person was in custody and was being interviewed by the FBI and by the Wichita Police Department.
Now apparently, they already had a sample of his DNA and now waiting for a second sample to confirm the first sample, because the police department, the Wichita Police Department is being careful right now because they don't want to make any kind of mistake with this story because this story is receiving national and international attention.
ZAHN: Of course. But your sources are still saying, they think they're 90 percent there. If that is true, what will be the impact of that news on your community?
HATTEBERG: The impact of the news on this community, you will hear the biggest sigh you've ever heard. If after the 10:00 news conference tomorrow they say that they do believe they do have BTK in custody, this will be the end of what I think you can call a long nightmare for Wichita, a nightmare that's gone back all the way to 1974.
ZAHN: And Larry, for people watching us at the top of the hour, they will know that you communicated with this killer at points in time for the last 30 years on passenger note. How will you feel if this man is captured?
HATTEBERG: I will feel a great sense of relief. The relief will be for the citizens of Wichita, for the people of Wichita. Because this guy has threatened, now, a whole second generation of Wichitans. His first killing was in 1974. Then, he disappeared for 18 years. Now he's back again, effective last March. And since last March, there have been 11 communications from him.
So, this has been like a huge, terrible mystery novel with no unfinished chapter. And maybe tomorrow, after the police hold their news conference at 10:00 tomorrow morning, we can write the final chapter.
ZAHN: Well, we all hope this is the break your community has been looking for. Larry Hatteberg of KAKE, thanks so much for your time. HATTEBERG: My pleasure.
ZAHN: And a little bit later on, I'll be talking with a woman who escaped the BTK Killer 28 years ago.
You're looking at her now. 28-years-ago, the BTK Killer selected a Wichita woman as his next victim. Her name is Cheryl. She was single and lived with her 5-year-old son.
On March 17, 1977, a boy who lived 3 doors down saw BTK knock on Cheryl's door. Cheryl wasn't home. Instead, BTK went to that neighbor boy's home, locked him and his siblings in a bathroom and killed their mother.
Police told Cheryl, BTK had earlier shown the victim's son a picture of a woman and child and asked if he knew them. The boy said, no.
The woman BTK set out to kill fled Kansas out of fear.
She joins us now, but has asked us not to reveal her face and we understand why.
Cheryl, Larry Hatteberg reporting just moments ago that his law enforcement sources are telling him they believe with a 90 percent degree of certainty they have got the BTK Killer. If that's true, what are you going to allow yourself to think about it?
CHERYL, INTENDED VICTIM OF BTK KILLER: I'm going to feel a lot of relief. I have got a little bit of excitement. Just basically, though, relief, as will my family and my friends.
ZAHN: Your life was turned totally upside down by knowing that you were considered a marked woman. Describe to our audience what it was like to go for periods, where you would actually sleep in public places. That was the only place you felt safe to sleep.
CHERYL: Yes. For several months after the murder, I would sleep on my floor, in my office, during my lunch hour. I would sleep, if I had a doctor's appointment, I would sleep in the office until I saw the doctor, and then I would grab naps, if people came over to visit me, I would sleep then, but I couldn't sleep at night.
ZAHN: Were you convinced because the BTK Killer missed you, when he canvassed your neighborhood, that he would try to attack you again?
CHERYL: I wouldn't say I was convinced, but it certainly was at the top of my, you know, possibility list.
ZAHN: Help us better understand the level of fear in your community after it became clear that these murders were the work of a serial killer.
CHERYL: I think, it's just -- it's hard to believe something like that can happen, you know, in a city like Wichita. The people, for the most part, are such good, down-home, earthy type people, trusting.
I didn't used to lock my door. I didn't used to lock my front door, whether I was home or whether I was gone. The door was always unlocked. After this murder down the street from me, I had triple locks on my doors leading to the outside and I also installed locks on my bedroom, on the interior of my bedroom.
ZAHN: I can't even imagine having to live that way.
Now, I know you expressed at the top of this interview, obviously there might be a sense of relief of law enforcement did get the BTK Killer. But you also have a fear that there's a possibility it could be the wrong man.
CHERYL: Yes. And in fact I was just telling someone earlier, that this afternoon, a thought came into my mind, that they do have the wrong man and that BTK's going to show up at my house, right when I've been lulled into a false sense of security and laugh at me and kill me. So, there's still the crazy thoughts and the fear.
ZAHN: And we're talking about living with this fear for many decades, Cheryl. It doesn't go away, does it?
CHERYL: No, it doesn't. But it definitely can be repressed and lie dormant. There's definitely been periods of time where I went long months and months, maybe, without even thinking about this, certainly without talking about it.
This was not something I usually shared, even with friends. Only -- I would only talk about it to my family that experienced it with me, my roommate, Judy, who was living there. But other than that, I never told anybody about it. I didn't want to talk about it and I didn't want to think about it.
ZAHN: Describe to us when you first learned that the BTK Killer had missed you, that he had come your home, he had knocked on your door and you weren't home.
CHERYL: I think possibly, I went into a bit of shock, because that's just -- that is such shocking news, that it's hard to even, like, comprehend, or swallow. I remember that first day, it was kind of like I was in a daze. I was fearful.
ZAHN: And if in fact the mayor's office announced there's an arrest tomorrow, do you think you can reclaim your life?
CHERYL: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. I think I can. And I think a lot of other people will be happy to help me reclaim it.
I've got a lot of people that have been very worried, loved ones that didn't even want me to be on TV. So, they'll be happy too.
ZAHN: Well, we'll learn a lot more tomorrow at 10:00 Central Time, when the mayor's office announces what they've got.
CHERYL: I'm very excited. ZAHN: A lot of people very hopeful.
Cheryl, thank you for sharing your story with us. Perhaps after tomorrow you'll be recapture that old life of peace.
Coming up next, the latest on Pope John Paul II's condition. And why the pope sees his very public suffering as a symbol that life is sacred no matter how painful.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PETER CASARELLA, CATHOLIC UNIVERSITY: These moments in which most of us normally wants to flee, hide, be in privacy, the Pope is saying, no, this is a condition of the world.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAHN: Tonight, the Vatican is saying that the pope is alert, breathing on his own, even joking with hospital staff after yesterday's tracheotomy. The pope, they say, does not have an infection in his lungs, but it will be a few days before he can even talk.
Today, Catholics around the world gathered at special masses like this one, in the pope's native Poland, and at this outdoor service in Phoenix, to pray for his recovery.
All of this has raised some questions about whether he should resign, but that is unlikely to happen. This pope sees his suffering as a powerful symbol of how precious life is.
Here's Tom Foreman.
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As Americans watch the long decline in the pope's health, questions are arising among Catholics and non-Catholics alike. Why does this ailing 84-year-old man continue in his grueling task as pope? Perhaps, it's because, as the pope himself has said many times, suffering is the point.
Peter Casarella is with the Catholic University of America.
CASARELLA: That's part of the job description. That's part of his actual role and, as it were, function in the world today.
FOREMAN (on camera): To suffer?
CASARELLA: Not to hide his suffering, not to seek out suffering. It's to let his suffering be a sign of the dignity of those who suffer throughout the world and that he sees in that suffering, a sign of hope.
FOREMAN (voice-over): The symbolism of suffering is important in nearly every culture. It drove civil rights marchers to face fire hoses and dogs. It has turned hunger strikers to heroes. It made Nelson Mandela into a world leader.
Although these examples are very different, the message from each sufferer is the same: this cause is more important than my well being, more important than my life.
DANIEL BOYARIN, AUTHOR: I think similarly, in the case of the pope, it is a measure and a -- a validation of his spiritual authority, that he, as it were, soldiers on.
FOREMAN: The pope's suffering has been increasingly visible for 20 years, as age, Parkinson's Disease and his relentless workload have pressed upon him.
(on camera) Supporters believe all of this has made him a more powerful advocate for what they see as fellow sufferers, the poor, minorities, the old, unborn babies. They say he demonstrates that, while suffering, you can live and even lead with dignity.
(voice-over) But others openly fear his frailty may undermine his best intentions, by allowing too much of the day-to-day power of his office to be administered by others.
PROF. JOSE CASANOVA, THE NEW SCHOOL UNIVERSITY: The question is what is the most important task for the pope to fulfill? To govern the church, to lead the church or be a symbol of some Christian idea? I think that the capacity to govern the church is the most important obligation and task he has.
FOREMAN: Catholics may grasp the symbolic reason for the pope's public suffering more easily than other people of different faiths. At every mass, they note that Jesus suffered for the sins of humanity.
And while Protestant churches display plain crosses to emphasize the resurrection of Christ, in Catholic churches, even on the pope's staff, Jesus is shown suffering.
The customs of popes serving for life developed long ago when death came swiftly at a much younger age. But this pope has discovered power in his years and his weakness. As he has written, he has found that suffering evokes compassion, respect, and it moves people toward rebuilding goodness in the world.
ZAHN: And the pope has been pushing himself a long time. Pope John Paul II elected some 26 years ago this October. He happens to be the fourth longest serving pope. The first pontiff, Saint Peter, led the church for at least, we're told, 32 years.
Time to check in with Larry King. He joins me now with a look at what he has coming up at 9 p.m.
Hi, Larry. How are you doing tonight?
LARRY KING, HOST, "LARRY KING LIVE": I like -- I like the leopard look.
ZAHN: You do?
KING: It's you, Paula.
ZAHN: Thank you, Larry.
KING: The leopard of New York.
ZAHN: Who you talking to tonight?
KING: We're going to deal with the tragic disappearance of young Jessica Marie Lunsford, that third grader that's missing down in Florida. We're going to have her father on. John Walsh will be with us. Her grandfather and grandfather, her aunt. And Ed Smart, the father of Elizabeth Smart, who has miraculously recovered.
We'll deal with that right ahead at 9 p.m. And have a great weekend, dear.
ZAHN: You, too, Larry. When you hear these stories, it just sends chills down your spine. We'll see you at the top of the hour.
One of the movies nominated for an Oscar has a pretty shocking title, "Born Into Brothels." The name isn't hype. Stick around. We'll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ZANA BRISKI, FILMMAKER: If they're not forced into prostitution immediately, they'll be married off to someone who's not reputable.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAHN: The Oscars are Sunday night. And we talked a little bit about them a little bit earlier tonight. And before we go, a look at a small but really remarkable contender.
"Born Into Brothels" is a documentary. It's about one woman who showed some of the poorest kids how they might escape a life of shame and in poverty. In many cases, those children were in the same room where their mothers prostituted themselves. And their rescuer did it with a simple point and shoot camera.
I recently sat down with filmmaker Zana Briski. Hers is an incredible story of hope, freedom and inspiration.
BRISKI: There's no opportunities for these kids at all. They're completely trapped in the red-light district. I mean, it's hell. It's living hell. If they're not forced into prostitution immediately, they'll be married off to someone who's not reputable and they'll end up in the line in prostitution one way or another. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I worry that I might become like them.
BRISKI: And they're really living in -- in pretty hellish circumstances, and they're so resilient. And they're so feisty and funny. And I was constantly amazed.
ZAHN (voice-over) Zana Briski and Ross Kauffman never set out to make an Oscar nominated documentary about the children of prostitutes in Calcutta.
ZAHN (on camera): Describe to us how you got involved in this project in the first place?
BRISKI: Well, actually, I went there as a photographer to photograph the women. So I wasn't thinking about a film at all.
ZAHN (voice-over): She met the children of Calcutta's red-light district, and they charmed her immediately. While she photographed the children, she came up with the idea of giving them cameras. And then something magical happened.
(on camera) When you gave these kids cameras, for many of them, it was the first time they'd ever been given a gift.
BRISKI: They just loved to do it. They loved to take photos. They loved to go on trips. And they loved to see each other's photos. They really formed a community.
And these kids are actually looking out for each other now. So it's really taking kids that have no hope and transforming their lives.
ZAHN (voice-over): But building self-confidence alone wasn't enough. The crushing poverty, prostitution, and drugs that daily surrounded the children was overwhelming for them, and for their mothers.
(on camera) Tell me a little bit about the women that you met in the red-light district and how they lived.
BRISKI: It's hard living in a brothel. It's a hard, lifestyle. And I was constantly humbled and amazed by these women. And I watched one women in one night, she had 12 customers in a row in the space of two hours. And that's just -- it's brutal. It can be absolutely brutal.
ZAHN: And where would the children be at that time?
BRISKI: Either in the room, outside the room, playing on the roof.
ZAHN: There was a painful exchange with a child on the roof, who basically said, "I'm playing up here," and he knew exactly what was going on, on the floor below him. ROSS KAUFFMAN, FILMMAKER: They're very aware of what's happening all around them. They're aware not only of what's happening with their mothers in the rooms, but also what's happening around them, in their neighborhood.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I know what she does for a living. And I feel bad talking about these things.
BRISKI: They know that they're going to end up like their mothers in that situation and there's really no escape.
ZAHN: Did they ever tell you that?
BRISKI: Yes. They would beg me to get them out of there, and their mothers would as well.
ZAHN: And what would the children say?
BRISKI: "Take me with you. Take me to America. I hate it here."
KAUFFMAN: I want to go to school.
BRISKI: Yes. Over and over.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): One has to accept life as being sad and painful.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I keep thinking if I could go some place else and get education, I wonder what I could become.
ZAHN (voice-over): And soon, Zana became an activist for the kids.
BRISKI: You promised it would be done today. You promised it would be done last Tuesday. They can't put a stamp on this?
ZAHN: She took on the Indian bureaucracy to get them the papers they needed to apply for boarding schools.
(on camera) What was it like to negotiate for these children? You laugh now. But you were pretty worn out then.
BRISKI: I will have to go back and do it all again.
ZAHN: How hard is it?
BRISKI: Impossible. Impossible. So hard.
ZAHN: Do they make it that hard on purpose or is it just the system?
BRISKI: They make it that hard on purpose.
ZAHN: They do not want to help these children? BRISKI: They don't want to help these children. These children have no rights at all. They have no rights to a passport. They have no rights to, you know, paperwork, I.D., anything.
ZAHN (voice-over): Eventually, Zana decided to make a documentary to raise money and international concern, to help these neglected children.
But to do that, she first had to persuade her filmmaker friend, Ross Kauffman, to leave New York City and come to Calcutta.
KAUFFMAN: It was Zana's original idea that it should be documented in some way and then she approached me to make a film with her. And at first I said, no. You know, I just knew what a difficult endeavor it was to make a documentary, three to four years of your life and financial struggle.
And then she, being the persistent and tenacious person she is, sent me some footage back in New York. And that was it. I saw the kids. I saw their joy. I saw the beauty that was in the footage. That was all it took.
ZAHN: Now, Zana and Ross are headed for Hollywood. They just may win an Oscar. But win or lose, the real winners could well be the resilient children of Calcutta, the children who were born into brothels.
(on camera) Would it be fair to say, your introducing these children to cameras will all but ensure that they don't practice prostitution?
BRISKI: Well, now, they have the choice. Before they had no choice. So it's up to them.
ZAHN: Well, some of the kids you saw tonight are now in schools far away from the slums, getting a second chance at life. Others will spend the rest of their lives in a brothel.
I'll be right back.
ZAHN: I don't know how you're feeling. T.G.I.F. Have a great weekend.
TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com